DATE OF INTERVIEW:
16th May 2014
METAL DISCOVERY: I think Black Widow must hold the record for the longest gap between new albums (at 38 years), although the 12 year gap between ‘In Therapy’ and ‘The Dead City Blueprint’ is still a long time. Why such a lengthy time between releases?
PAUL: No idea, truly. We were trying to top ‘Chinese Democracy’ but just couldn’t get there in the end. It doesn’t feel like that amount of time at all. Time accelerates the older you get and the more anxious you become about stagnating. It was a productive period still anyway, though, as we played gigs until around 2005 or 6, recorded a few demos, and I personally kept writing and developing, recording a ton of rough demos at home. We were not rehearsing so often for a period, though. Used to worry about how time was slipping by, but then became resigned to the fact that sometimes you have to step back and things will happen when the time is right. Several albums worth of material were made and put to the side or thrown away. In 2014 the leap between albums probably seems reasonably (though not entirely) significant, compared to if we churned one out every couple of years & were growing in the spotlight, if you will. ‘In Therapy’ part 2 would’ve been pointless anyway.
(Paul Groundwell on the timelessly profound qualities of new Thine album, 'The Dead City Blueprint')
"It is a deep and enduring album, I’d say; peeling back the flesh as opposed to scratching the itch."
Interview by Mark Holmes
Official Thine Website:
A Town Like This (1998)
When a band seemingly disappears off the radar for a considerable length of time, with no officially announced hiatus or any inkling of a suggestion that might indicate a return from years of inactivity, it's a fair assumption to regard them as defunct. That's not always the case, of course, and it's always a pleasant and most welcome surprise when bands of yore, that promised so much back in the day, resurface; particularly when they're armed with fresh material that continues their sonic journey with tenacious conviction. West Yorkshire's Thine are one such act and the Dewsbury dwellers have returned in 2014 with 'The Dead City Blueprint', a profoundly atmospheric and affectively moving record that's loaded with skilfully crafted soundscapes of melancholic sublimity. Releasing their previous full-length, 'In Therapy', back in 2002, they bring a whole new dimension to the meaning of the oft-used phrase, "long awaited new album". Lead guitarist Paul Groundwell fills in the gaps for Metal Discovery surrounding Thine's lengthy absence, and answers questions on the band's stunning new release...
Thine - promo shot
Photograph copyright © 2013 Aaron Stainthorpe
Official Thine Facebook:
Thanks to Simon Glacken for arranging the interview.
In Therapy (2002)
The Dead City Blueprint (2014)
MD: Obviously people progress over the years as both musicians and with their general outlooks etc., but was there a mutually innate feeling amongst band members for how Thine should be when you all reconvened to work on new music?
PAUL: The others tend to let me get on with it, and a dark period I had in 2012, in particular, made it a necessity for these tracks to exist (all but one of the featured album tracks were actually written in a 7 month period). And again, behind the scenes we have not been silent or fully cut off from one another. We have been witnessing the progression of new music and ideas for years and years, and no complaints about the direction it was heading in. We had discussed a little between ourselves a few years ago that the songs seemed to be a mix of the slightly proggy elements of the first album mixed with the melody and compact structure of the second album, so that was fine for everyone. And if there have been songs which one of us has a complaint about, they are either ditched (the song, not the person) or changed (the song, not the person).
MD: How would you describe the differences in general sound and style between ‘In Therapy’ and ‘The Dead City Blueprint’, and do you regard the latter as a natural progression from the former, despite the 12 year gap?
PAUL: It’s more the (re)introduction of the prog elements I mentioned. The sound and writing, I’d say, has continued to mature…and yes, it is a natural progression overall, as a result of a continued writing process over those years. We brought in acoustic guitar to add an extra breadth to the sound, and some keyboards to give some subtle ambience and atmosphere plus a bit of additional emotional impact. More flowing compositions, less compact in that sense, as they are not as based in typical rock structuring and arrangements as much. I’d actually say that this album, though less upbeat, is also less bleak in a strange way, or at least more hopeful. I think there was a cold, caged and resigned tone to the vocals on the previous album which gave a good contrast to the music, but there is more feeling on this one. More swimming than sinking perhaps. More space created for guitars on this one too, so overall less disciplined in that regard. Just flows better as a result, and more varied and dynamic.
MD: Thine always recorded at Academy Studios back in the day so was that a natural choice for ‘The Dead City Blueprint’, and was it surreal to be back there as a band after so many years?
PAUL: It wasn’t bad at all as nothing had really changed - just as I remembered it. This was the new Academy Studios too (where ‘In Therapy’ was recorded), as opposed to the old one where we recorded the first album, ‘A Town Like This’ in 1998. Such a classic studio though, and institutional, considering to a lot of great British bands we were listening to in the 90s went there. The main difference this time was that because Dan, our drummer, was engineering, things were very relaxed, and we could control and shape it much more how we wanted. We were also given a great and generous amount of time on this for the budget, thanks to Keith Appleton, the studio owner. Thanks Keith.
MD: What’s the general concept behind ‘The Dead City Blueprint’ as the title and cover art suggest something rather bleak… even apocalyptic perhaps?
PAUL: Certainly an apocalyptic theme of sorts, yes, but more a general deterioration in state of mind (people who see the booklet and parts of the art might understand this more). It’s about a troubled descent and a subsequent voyage (or search) towards recovery, with much introspection along the way. But that is only one perspective. There are existential themes and metaphors, hidden messages, but also a more social theme of detachment in the modern age. Progressively living our lives virtually. Feeling part of a collective, but actually more isolated and alone as a result, fundamentally. There’s a good Japanese horror film, ‘Kairo’, which seems to explore these concepts of isolation……and in its more literal sense, ‘The Dead City’ can simply be the grave – therefore, a tale of ultimate inevitability and exploration (and expiration, heh) of mortality. We are all just killing time.
But yes, the cover shows the evaporation of the city, of the ‘we’, and what remains centrally is the ‘I’, (not the ‘me’), depicted almost as a shrine. The flames are doing as was foretold, but not foreseen.
MD: There are so many passages of music on the album that are characterised by genuinely sublime atmospheres. Did these come naturally from the compositions, or did it take a lot of effort to craft the precise tone and feeling you were aiming for in each of the songs?
PAUL: Thanks. Yes, it is often trying to create some heightened emotional reactions/triggers, and is written very much from feeling, so I hope that comes across well. It’s not a particularly easily accessible album straight away, even though the intention was for it to have a certain immediacy, yet challenging still to give longevity. Worked on each song a huge amount to try and shape some of these emotional elements. One of the objectives when recording was to preserve the original integrity of the song from when it was made, to evoke those same strong feelings felt in that moment of conception.
It’s about association, and hoping people can relate to it, and welcome the album into the dark corners of their own existence somewhat, and be a glimmer of light. Or just to bathe in the experience for an hour and feel illuminated or uplifted (or downright depressed, heh). It is a diary of sorts, and delving into the trials & tribulations of the journey. It is a deep and enduring album, I’d say; peeling back the flesh as opposed to scratching the itch.
MD: There’s an almost folky feeling underpinning some of the songs as well, particularly with the acoustic guitars, so was it your aim to infuse the songs with a folky twang here and there, or is this more of an intrinsic quality of Thine’s music?
PAUL: No intention, no - just what worked best for the song, or the message behind it. ‘Flame to the Oak’, for example – I wanted to have a natural organic beauty to it, and uplifting feel rather than a downbeat feel, though it is a song of destructive forces. I don’t know where it comes from, though. I didn’t think “I want to make this folky” or have any real conscious plan in that regard when composing. It just came out like that. Obviously it being in 3 time helps, and that’s what there is more of on this album compared to our others, so the folk-feel you mention is valid, sure. But the decision to incorporate acoustic guitar too actually came about not too long before recording. Just felt it would really help the feel of the songs, the overall polish & organic feel of the album (and give breadth to the soundscape, as mentioned). Also, we do have a certain slight link to folk going back to our first demo, ‘Journeys’, so not entirely new for us.
MD: I have to ask as well, I’m presuming that the guitar lick at the start of ‘To The Precipice’ is only coincidentally reminiscent of the guitar lick at the start of Cliff Richard’s ‘Wired For Sound’ (albeit in a different key)?!
PAUL: Haha, purely coincidental, yes. Interesting one - we don’t mind those kinds of mentions, though. We weren’t influenced by any other band on this; no artists people would have (and actually have) assumed anyway, but small ideas here and there surely crept in from other sources. I know there’s Kate Bush in there somewhere, for example.
MD: You seem to have garnered some very positive reactions for the new album from press and fans alike, so has that exceeded your expectations?
PAUL: Very difficult when it comes to critique of your work, because a) it’s very precious and personal to you, so is probably a bit like somebody scrutinising your kids or something, & b) it’s all very subjective. People have a right to an opinion for sure, and there is no wrong or right, but sometimes just a mindset in the moment can affect how you approach and perceive an album. There have been albums I love where one day I just don’t appreciate it or ‘feel’ it, even though the following day I might love it again…and so here is a ‘new’ band (to some) such as ourselves trying to make a first impression to many, for them to project that opinion to the masses & without much of an established name to precede us. Tough to get the exposure.
For ‘The Dead City Blueprint’, I don’t know what to think in regard to expectation. Very very few seem to dislike it which is good, and we’ve had some perfect scores too which is great but, yes, just opinions at the end of the day. No right or wrong. It just ‘is’. One epicentre of infinite perceptions. It’s evidently a well made album, I’d personally say, but whether each person (and one assigned with the task to review) can indulge, relate, and engage with what it has to offer is another matter. Will appeal to some, not to others. C’est la vie!
MD: After so long away from the public eye, were you concerned whether you still had a fanbase out there?
PAUL: We always had a dedicated bunch of fans, but not really an extensive fanbase compared to many bands, so we weren’t concerned. Obviously it’s great that the people who have stood by us over the years seem to be very pleased with it, but nobody can be forced to associate with this album. If they like it, great. If not, there are other albums which perhaps can represent the soundtrack to their lives more efficiently. But on ‘In Therapy’, for example, it seems many people felt very strongly on a personal level that it touched them somewhat – saying it helped them through tough times (and even helping to save their life, I’ve heard). That’s payback enough is it not. To make a difference. For your work to speak to someone poignantly enough to offer a degree of comfort and catharsis on a human level, all through a mere combination of sounds and words exchanged and treasured intimately by strangers.
MD: Because of the long gap, has it almost felt like starting over afresh?
PAUL: Would say it feels like an ongoing experience purely because we’ve ‘lived’ those years ourselves; not stepping away then coming back. In regard to the wider world of the music biz, yes there is an element of starting again because things move on quite quickly, and momentum is easy to lose and difficult to build, so currently we’re scaling the mountain again with fewer blizzards, but with more potential avalanches.
MD: Did you shop around for any other labels, or was it already a done deal that you’d reignite your association with Peaceville?
PAUL: We had looked around a good many years ago, and there was an offer from the US, I remember, which interested us, but unfortunately the amount offered would have compromised the result, so we didn’t go for it, and after then we became more ‘inactive’, so had to wait until we were ready again before thinking about labels. Peaceville was the most natural for us though, to have better control in how things go.
MD: A fairly random question this one, but as part of the press pack for the digi-promo of the new album, there’s a JPG file which is a picture of Small Faces’ ‘Greatest Hits’. Can you shed any light on such randomness?
PAUL: Very much a mistake by whoever sent that around by the sound of it, heh heh. Maybe it should’ve been a picture of Cliff Richard, then your suspicions would’ve been ignited further!
MD: Can fans expect touring from Thine soon, or maybe some festival dates, in support of the new album?
PAUL: Yes indeed, there might be a European tour slot coming our way for the summer, but can’t confirm yet as obviously it might not happen. Fingers crossed though. A few festivals would be great for us too, so let’s see how it pans out.
MD: Finally, are Thine now back as a fully operational band, and will further new material be forthcoming without such a long gap again?
PAUL: Yes, got the studio booked for 2021 already…but seriously, yes, we’re fully operational with a full line-up and rehearsing frequently enough. No shortage of new material either, so once the summer is over we’ll likely start to go through some new ones in rehearsals and see which best make the grade.
MD: Cheers for the interview and hope to see you out on the road soon.
PAUL: Thanks a lot for the questions & time. Appreciate it.